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Here's why I, and 324 councillors, are backing Tessa Jowell for London Mayor

We require three things of our next Mayor: the ability to win the confidence of Londoners; the determination to change our city for the better; and the experience of getting things done. 

I am one of 325 Labour councillors who are publicly supporting Tessa Jowell’s bid to be London Mayor. Here’s why.

London is a city of economic migration. With its nine million people and its 250 languages, today London is the very definition of diversity and tolerance.

Over the course of history, the patterns of movement to London weren’t just limited to people from beyond the UK, arriving at the docks of the East End or Heathrow to the West. Just as the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony described, when the chimneys of the industrial revolution rose into London’s skyline millions of workers arrived into the city from all parts of Britain, chasing a better quality of life.  Today’s modern equivalents are the thousands of young professionals arriving in London each year seeking out a decent job in an exciting city.

Getting a share of London’s affluence is what draws so many into its orbit. But in a city that is growing older and ever more expensive, not everyone is enjoying the opportunities that should be on offer in a global city. London has become a city of economic extremes; there are those with very much, and there are many more with very little.

But salary and income aren’t the only things that divide Londoners. The extent of the conditions that 19th Century workers experienced in polluted and overcrowded streets may well be a thing of the past. But still even today, where you live in London has a large part in determining how long you will live, how long you will stay healthy and what life chances your children will have. London’s big challenges might be understood globally, but they are felt locally.

As Councillors representing areas in all parts of London, each of us has the experience of seeing these divisions in the streets we represent, often advocating for neighbours who may live next to each other, but whose lives and family circumstances could not be further apart. Local government is increasingly being called upon to stitch together London’s social fabric with ever diminishing resources. In this era of financial constraint, we can build a few homes while our housing waiting lists keep growing; we can keep our council tax frozen while the costs of living in London keep increasing; and we can keep our Children’s Centres open while the inequality gap grows wider and wider.

But if we are going to be able to crack many of the daunting challenges we face across the city, we require three things of our next Mayor: the ability to win the confidence of Londoners; the determination to change our city for the better; and the experience of getting things done. That’s why so many of us in town halls across London are backing Tessa Jowell’s bid for City Hall.

In diverse outer London Boroughs like Ealing, where I am a councillor, Labour has the experience of winning against the odds. It wasn’t easy to win back control of our council in the dying days of the last Labour Government, and to elect a Labour MP – Rupa Huq – in May 2015. But if you look further afield, to Harrow and Barnet – where Labour must win if we are to recapture the Mayoralty – the true scale of the task facing us next year becomes apparent.

Tessa has led the debate on the big issues of this selection – a new ‘Homes for Londoners’ agency directly building the homes Londoners desperately need; reinventing and reinvesting in Sure Start to secure the future for the next generation of Londoners; and ensuring transport is affordable for all through ‘one zone weekends’ and one-hour bus tickets.

But her greatest strength is her ability to deliver on these ideas. As the Minister who set up Sure Start for the country, and the Secretary of State who secured the Olympics for London, there can be no doubting her ability to keep on delivering for our City.

With the unifying message of One London, Tessa’s great empathy and experience uniquely places her as the candidate to expand Labour’s support beyond the collection of heartlands and marginals each of us represents. Polls have consistently demonstrated that Tessa is the candidate who has the confidence of Londoners. She can inspire confidence that under her leadership, London can become a fairer place. Under Tessa, all Londoners could find it that bit easier to enjoy everything the city has to offer. That is why we as councillors are proud to back her.

Read a full list of London councillors supporting Tessa Jowell.

Peter Mason is a local councillor for Hanwell in the London Borough of Ealing. He tweets @pejmason.

Photo: Reuters
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Murder by numbers: the legacy of the Grenfell Tower fire

It is difficult to refute the reality of suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned.

How do we measure human malice? Sometimes it’s all too easy. This summer, British cities are struggling through the aftermath of successive terrorist attacks and hate crimes. The Manchester bombing. The Westminster Bridge murders. The London Bridge atrocity. The attack on people outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and on other mosques. The unidentified young men who are still at large in the capital after spraying acid in the faces of passers-by, mutilating them.

In Britain, we are commendably resilient about these things. Returning to London after some time away, I found my spirits lifted by an issue of the London Evening Standard magazine that celebrated the ordinary people who stepped in to help after these atrocities. The paramedics who worked through the night. The Romanian chef who offered shelter in his bakery. The football fan who took on the London Bridge terrorists, screaming, “Fuck you, I’m Millwall!” The student housing co-ordinator who rushed to organise board for the victims of the inferno at the Grenfell Tower and their families.

Wait. Hold on a second. One of these things is not like the others. The Grenfell Tower disaster, in which at least 80 people died, was not a terrorist or malicious attack. It was the result of years of callous council decisions and underinvestment in social housing. On 14 June, entire families burned alive in their homes partly because, it is alleged, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would not pay the extra £5,000 or so for fire-resistant cladding. Nor could it find the cash, despite a budget surplus, to instal proper sprinkler systems on the rotting interior of the building.

Kensington and Chelsea is a Tory borough that, in cash terms, cares very little for poorer citizens who are unlikely to vote the right way. In 2014, while the Grenfell Tower residents were refused basic maintenance, the council handed out £100 rebates to its top-rate taxpayers, boasting of its record of “consistently delivering greater efficiencies while improving services”. Some of those efficiencies had names, and parents, and children.

This is a different sort of depravity altogether. It’s depravity with plausible deniability, right up until the point at which deniability goes up in flames. Borrowing from Friedrich Engels, John McDonnell described the Grenfell Tower disaster as “social murder”. The shadow chancellor and sometime Jack Russell of the parliamentary left has never been known for his delicate phrasing.

Naturally, the Tory press queued up to condemn McDonnell – not because he was wrong but because he was indiscreet. “There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder,” he said, “where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences… and as a result of that people have suffered.”

It is difficult to refute the reality of that suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned from the towering tombstone that now blights the west London skyline.” As the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Market austerity is no less brutal for being bloodless, calculating, an ideology of measuring human worth in pennies and making cuts that only indirectly slice into skin and bone. Redistributing large sums of money from the poor to the rich is not simply an abstract moral infraction: it kills. It shortens lives and blights millions more. Usually, it does so in a monstrously phlegmatic manner: the pensioners who die early of preventable diseases, the teenagers who drop out of education, the disabled people left to suffer the symptoms of physical and mental illness with nobody to care for them, the thousands who have died on the waiting lists for state benefits that they are perfectly entitled to, the parents whose pride disintegrates as they watch their children go to school hungry.

We are not encouraged to measure the human cost of austerity in this way, even though there are many people in back offices making exactly these sorts of calculations. This year, when researchers from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine claimed that “relentless cuts” to the health service could explain as many as 30,000 “excess deaths” in England and Wales in 2015, the government denounced this as “a triumph of personal bias over research”, which, however you slice it, is a callous prep school debater’s response to the reality of 30,000 fresh graves.

There is a species of evil in which an individual allows the dark and yammering corners of his mind to direct him to put a blade in a bystander’s belly, or a bomb in a bustling crowd of teenage girls. That sort of monstrosity is as easy to identify as it is mercifully rare, though frighteningly less rare than it was in less febrile times. But there is another sort of evil that seldom makes the headlines. This comes about when someone sits down with a calculator and works out how much it will cost to protect and nurture human life, deducts that from the cost of a tax rebate for local landowners or a nice night at the opera, then comes up with a figure. It’s an ordinary sort of evil, and it has become routine and automated in the austerity years. It is a sort of evil, in the words of Terry Pratchett, that “begins when you begin to treat people as things”. 

The Grenfell Tower disaster was the hellish evidence of the consequences of fiscal ruthlessness that nobody could look away from. Claims that it could not have been predicted were shot down by the victims. The residents’ association wrote on its campaign website after years of begging the council to improve living conditions: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”

That catastrophic event has happened, and the ordinary British response to tragedy – brave, mannered dignity – is inappropriate. When the Grenfell inquiry launches next month, it is incumbent on every citizen to call for answers and to call this kind of travesty by its name: murder by numbers.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder